Several refractory silicide, boride, and carbide coatings were examined. The coatings were applied to type 440C steel surfaces by radio-frequency sputtering. The friction and wear properties of the coatings were found to be related to stoichiometry and impurity content of the bulk coating as well as the degree of interfacial adherence between coating and substrate. Bulk coating stoichiometry could to a large extent be controlled by the application of a negative bias voltage during deposition. Adherence was promoted by the formation of an oxidized layer at the interface. Deliberate preoxidizing of the 440C produced enhanced adherence for many compounds which are related to the formation of a mixed oxide transition region.